The Monday Night Football showdown between the Broncos and Texans – in which most of the prime-time drama will focus on Brock Osweiler versus his former team’s defense – there will be a halftime celebration that will unfortunately not get the spotlight it should.
Three former standout Broncos will be officially inducted into the Ring of Fame on Monday night – Simon Fletcher (1985-1995), Jason Elam (1993-2007) and John Lynch (2004-2007).
Created in 1984 by owner Pat Bowlen to honor players and people significant to the success of the team, the Ring of Fame celebrates the team’s rich history and the ceremony during halftime of a game has become an annual highlight for both the inductees and Broncos Country alike as fans are treated to a reminder of why this team and franchise are second to none.
Tonight will be no different.
Fletcher spent his entire 11-year NFL career with the Broncos – something becoming more and more rare in the NFL – and he never even missed a game. Fletcher, a member of the Broncos’ 50th Anniversary Team, set a team mark by appearing in 172 consecutive games.
And the linebacker hailing from Bay City, Texas, remains the franchise’s original “sackmaster” as the all-time sack leader with 97.5 takedowns.
As No. 73 was honored Sunday night in the pillar unveiling, Fletcher noted that he’s been counting on Von Miller ever since 2013 to break his records and become the all-time best.
“He is, in my mind, the Broncos best pass rusher ever, and if he can stay healthy and keep doing what he’s doing, sooner or later Von Miller is going to prove me right,” Fletcher said. “Then, that will be the happiest day of my life besides today because records are meant to be broken.”
In addition to leading the Broncos in sacks for seven consecutive seasons (1988-94), Fletcher still owns three of the Top 7 single-season sack totals in team history. By the end of his NFL career, Fletcher was tied for 13th on the league’s all-time sack list. Including his six quarterback takedowns in the postseason, he totaled 103.5 for the Broncos to become just the 11th player in NFL history to reach 100 combined sacks for a single team.
Fletcher joined Pro Football Hall of Fame defensive end Reggie White as the only players to record double-digit sack totals in five consecutive years from 1989-93. His 66 sacks during that span trailed only White (67).
Fletcher also set an NFL record by posting a sack in 10 consecutive games from 1992-93 – a mark that he currently shares with Broncos linebacker DeMarcus Ware (2007-08 while at Dallas).
But Fletcher also accounted for 851 career tackles (530 solo), two interceptions, 21 forced fumbles and 10 fumble recoveries. A starter on three AFC Championship teams (1986, 1987, 1989), he amassed 42 tackles (36 solo) and six sacks in 12 career postseason games.
Coming from the University of Houston, Fletcher was selected by the Broncos in the second round (54th overall) of the 1985 draft. He started 33-of-37 games with the Cougars, amassing 14 career sacks and 30 tackles for a loss.
Of all his accomplishments, the thing that Fletcher was most proud of was his “ironman streak” of playing in every game.
“Clearly the fact that I played in every game, that I never had to close my eyes and put on a blindfold and go to the pay window,” Fletcher said, highlighting his grandparents and the values they instilled in him. “I was paid to play in a set number of games. I showed up to every single one. It was my job to be there every play.”
A third-round draft choice by the Broncos in 1993, Elam is the franchise’s all-time leader in field goals (395) and points (1,786) – both representing the second-highest totals in NFL history for a single team behind Jason Hanson of Detroit.
A three-time Pro Bowl selection (1995, 1998, 2001) and 2001 NFL Special Teams Player of the Year, Elam played in a team-record 250 combined games (including 14 postseason games) for the Broncos. He was part of 152 combined wins – the second-highest total in team history behind quarterback John Elway (163) – including the Broncos’ back-to-back Super Bowl victories in 1997 and 1998.
Although kickers can be the hero or the goat from one game to the next, Elam was so often the hero – kicking 24 game-winning or game-saving field goals during his 15 years as a Bronco.
“It’s just a huge honor. I loved my time in Denver. I love the fans. I think that we have the best fans in the whole world, and I love coming to Denver,” Elam said, praising the organization and fans for how they celebrate their players. “I’m a blessed man, for sure.”
Elam finished his career with the team ranked eighth in NFL history in regular-season field goal percentage (80.6 / 395-of-490) and playoff field goal percentage (83.3 / 15-of-18). He also finished his Broncos career ranked second in league history in 50-yard field goals (37), including a 63-yard kick against Jacksonville on Oct. 25, 1998, that tied the NFL record.
Including his two final NFL seasons with Atlanta (2008-09), Elam finished his career making 436-of-540 (80.7 percent) field goals and 675-of-679 (99.4 percent) PATs for 1,983 points. He set an NFL mark with 16 consecutive seasons scoring 100-plus points, and his 263 consecutive games (every contest of his career) with a point was the second-longest streak in league history at the time of his retirement.
But this was all foreshadowed during his college days at the University of Hawaii, where Elam converted 79 career field goals to finish one shy of the then-NCAA record.
“You think about a lot of the games, but I think more than anything a lot of the things that I think about are my teammates, the relationships that I had and just a lot of the fun stories,” Elam said Sunday night. “Maybe not even on the field, just team flights or the locker room and just coming back and seeing some of these guys that I haven’t seen in literally 20-plus years. It’s pretty special.”
Lynch began his career in Tampa Bay but played his final four seasons in the NFL with the Broncos, being named to the Pro Bowl in each of those four.
Lynch joins safety Steve Atwater (7), tight end Shannon Sharpe (7), cornerback Champ Bailey (4), center Tom Nalen (4) and defensive lineman Trevor Pryce (4) as the only players in team history to make four consecutive Pro Bowls. Lynch also shares with Bailey the distinction of being the only two players in Broncos history to make the Pro Bowl in each of their first four years with the club.
A finalist for the Pro Football Hall of Fame in each of the last three years, Lynch was selected to nine total Pro Bowls (4 with Denver; 5 with Tampa Bay), trailing only Hall of Famer Ken Houston (10) among safeties in league history.
Lynch helped Denver’s defense rank No. 8 overall in total defense during his time while also logging 304 tackles (215 solo), seven sacks, three interceptions, 26 passes defensed, nine forced fumbles and one fumble recovery. He joined Brian Dawkins as the only NFL safeties during that span to post seven sacks and nine forced fumbles.
After setting a career high with 10 passes defensed in his first year with the Broncos in 2004, Lynch established personal bests with four sacks and four forced fumbles in 2005 to become the first safety since Rod Woodson in 1992 to reach those totals in a single season.
Denver’s defense in 2005 allowed the fewest points per game (16.1) by the franchise in 14 years, helping the team to a 13-3 record and an AFC West Division title. The Broncos’ 2005 squad secured the team’s first playoff win at Sports Authority Field at Mile High (and first postseason win since Super Bowl XXXIII) by beating the two-time defending Super Bowl-champion Patriots. Lynch’s fourth-quarter interception helped seal Denver’s 27-13 win to halt New England’s 10-game postseason win streak and propel the Broncos to the AFC Championship Game.
“I think the best part, in terms of football, was obviously the year we got to the AFC Championship,” Lynch said of that 2005 run. “You also talk about leaving no regrets and that is a regret. It’s the one that got away. When you have one of those at home, you have to bring it home. I think about that often. Playing with guys like Champ Bailey, Jake Plummer and the group we had, the Tommy Nalen and [Rod Smiths of the world, that’s what made it so special.”
Lynch was selected by Tampa Bay in the third round of the 1993 NFL Draft from Stanford University and came to the Broncos after 11 seasons with the Buccaneers, where he helped the franchise to a victory in Super Bowl XXXVII. He will be inducted into the Buccaneers’ Ring of Honor this year.
Although Lynch’s time with the Broncos was short and did not include a Super Bowl victory like with the Bucs, the all-pro safety says he identifies with both teams equally.
“I invested myself and my family into the two organizations I played with. …I really feel like I was part of two great organizations,” Lynch said following the induction ceremony at Dove Valley Sunday night. “Although my time far outweighed in Tampa than it did here in Denver, this organization is very much a part of my NFL career. I think it speaks volumes of this organization that it had that big of an impression on me in my short time here.”
Lynch said all that comes back to Bowlen.
“One thing you learn is a lot of people pay lip service to their goal being to win championships ever year,” Lynch said. “They live it here and they breathe it. That’s thanks to our owner Pat Bowlen. I got to experience that first hand. That was a treat.”